Univest Featured Athletes (Wk. 2-17-21)

SuburbanOneSports.com recognizes a male and female featured athlete each week. The awards, sponsored by Univest, are given to seniors of good character who are students in good standing that have made significant contributions to their teams. Selections are based on nominations received from coaches, athletic directors and administrators.


Univest’s SuburbanOneSports.com Featured Female Athlete for week of Feb. 17, 2021


Souderton senior Ellie Hiestand appeared to be signed, sealed and delivered to Shippensburg University. While the school had a strong criminal justice program and a nice campus, she also got a good vibe from the swimming coach, Tim Verge, and believed she would excel under his direction. But something told her to place her academic credentials - National Honor Society, a weighted GPA of 4.07, etc. - into an internet database for swimming programs to see what would come back as a match. One of the hits was the United States Coast Guard Academy. At first, Hiestand was bemused by the idea, but her father encouraged her to look into it further, reminding her how much she loved the water and that she would be on the coast in New Britain, Conn., or anywhere she’d be stationed after graduation.


Hiestand reached out to the coach, John Westcott, and decided to visit before her junior year. “Once I stepped onto that campus, I was, like, ‘Oh my gosh, I love this place,’” she said. “It’s on the water. There is a lake that runs through the campus.” The swim program also met her standards. “I absolutely adore the coaches,” she said. “I felt like the environment and the energy that they were putting out made it exactly where I wanted to be. But, it’s more than swimming when you are committing to an academy. You’re committing to serving your country.’” The more Hiestand thought about it, the more she decided to go for it at a place where the acceptance rate is around 15 percent. “I started looking into it more,” she said. “The more I looked into it, the more and more I fell in love with it.”


Despite individual success as a swimmer, there is something about the team aspect and bonding of water polo that had Hiestand consider making what was a fun little hobby into her main focus. What’s interesting, as she gushes about her teammates and their effort, is that Hielstand will never mention her own leadership role, or the fact that she was named team MVP at season’s end. We’ll leave that to her coach, Crystal Armstrong, who deployed her team leader at multiple advantageous positions. “Ellie was instrumental in many of our wins, as well as a strong leader in and out of the pool,” said Armstrong, who was a first-year head coach this year after two years as an assistant. “She received the team MVP award for the season, and fully deserved it. Her knowledge of the sport, her drive to be not just good but great, and her love for the team allowed Ellie to be a fantastic water polo player in every aspect.” Since Armstrong coached Hiestand when she was a youngster, she was not surprised by her leadership. “It is difficult to find an athlete this passionate about the sport but, even from a young age, she was skilled and strong and knowledgeable,” said Armstrong. “It only developed more and more with time.”

An outdoor lifeguard in the summer season and an indoor one in the offseason, it is important to Hiestand to leave a mark on the community where she was weaned. A year ago, she mapped out a whole water polo program for younger kids that was approved and ready to rock (20 kids were signed up). “And the week it was supposed to start, COVID hit and we couldn’t do it,” she said. “But, I’m really hoping to start something up like that again. It will have to do with what is allowed with COVID.” In addition to water polo, she believes it is important for swimming to keep pace with other sports. She knows what it has done for her, and wants the same for others.


For her final hurrah as a high school swimmer, Hiestand is qualified for districts in the 100 backstroke and pair of relays: 200 Medley and 200 Freestyle. “I hope to advance to states with those relays,” she said.


To read Hiestand's complete profile, please click on the following link: https://www.suburbanonesports.com/featured-athletes/female/ellie-hiestand-0093041


Univest’s SuburbanOneSports.com Featured Male Athlete for week of Feb. 17, 2021


James Ashford is a gifted and dynamic basketball player. The Bensalem senior gave glimpses of a promising future well before he stepped onto the hardwood as a freshman. “Coming into ninth grade, we were very excited because he was a really good middle school player,” Bensalem basketball coach Ron Morris said. “We have to worry about other schools coming in and looking at them and all that stuff in today’s day and age of high school basketball, so we were really thrilled when he did come to the high school.” That’s not to say the question of attending another school didn’t arise. It’s inevitable for an athlete as talented as Ashford. “There was a time I was thinking of going to (Archbishop) Ryan,” he said. “Me and my dad were like, ‘No, no, we’re not going to Ryan. We’re going to stay at Bensalem and I’m going to make my mark.’” And make his mark Ashford has. The senior standout is averaging 23 points a game, and he’s doing it with a wide variety of shots. He also averages seven rebounds and 1.3 assists and gets the job done at both ends of the court.  “He’s been amazing,” Morris said. “He has a really high motor - he has the motor of a kid that can separate themselves. He can catch a rebound and beat guys down the floor that were 10 feet ahead of him. He has a high basketball IQ. His shot has improved and is only going to continue to improve, and I think he’s someone that’s going to flourish at the next level.”


Playing at the next level is the ultimate goal for Ashford, who is as impressive off the court as he is on it. “He’s very high character, gets really good grades,” Morris said. “Everybody in the building – all the teachers, the administration – they love him. The principal actually picked James and (teammate) Aaron Sanders to be on the leadership team that the principal formed. It’s 10 kids in the building, and he’s one of them.” Morris is the advisor of Bensalem’s Blue Crew, a culture club that builds school spirit. Ashford is an active member of the club. “He’s also in another club that I run called Building Bridges, a mentor club where the high school kids go down to the middle school and talk to the kids about different topics,” the Owls’ coach said. It’s easy to understand why Ashford is on the wish list of numerous Division 3 schools, and listening to his coach tell it, he would be a steal at that level. The Bensalem senior, who has a 3.40 GPA, is keeping his options open. “Right now I’m focusing on playing at the next level at any school,” Ashford said. “Since COVID had a big hit, it’s kind hard with the recruiting and all that stuff.”


Ashford’s long-term plans include becoming a firefighter. It’s a career choice that had its roots when he was a youngster and was inspired by his uncle Terrence – a fire captain in Trenton. “When I was growing up, I always watched Firehouse Sam,” Ashford said of an animated television series about a fireman named Sam. “My uncle was a firefighter, and I would go to the firehouse. I was always interested in hearing the sirens, helping people and putting that whole suit on.” For now, Ashford is looking for the Owls to finish the season strong with his sights on a future that includes college basketball, pro basketball overseas and, eventually, firefighters academy. “Division 3 schools are all over him – I think he’s a higher level,” Morris said. “However, I told him – ‘God has a plan. You have to think of what’s best for you.’” Ashford has not given up on his dream of playing basketball at a high level. “I believe in God a lot, and God has a plan for me,” he said. “I think something’s going to come up for me.” So does his coach, who believes Ashford has all the tools. “And he’s just an all-around great kid, Morris said.


To read Ashford’s complete profile, please click on the following link: https://www.suburbanonesports.com/featured-athletes/male/james-ashford-0093042